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Titanium Dragon

TD writes and reviews pony fanfiction, and has a serious RariJack addiction. Send help and/or ponies.

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Emotional Transitions, Bystander Syndrome, and the Gauntlet of Fire · 6:53am Apr 17th, 2016

So, I watched the Gauntlet of Fire, and I just wanted to note that this episode, for all its strengths, really also shows that the show’s creators continue to struggle with using characters as bystanders, as well as character development.

The first problem is something which has showed up a few times in the past in poorly written episodes such as Daring Don’t – namely, when the writers focus on the wrong character, they end up forgetting what the other characters can do, and indeed, take away their agency. This episode awkwardly wrote Rarity and Twilight in, but then had the pair of them do absolutely nothing to contribute. Actually, it was worse than that – they actively stood around and didn’t help while bad stuff was going on around them.

Why didn’t Twilight and Rarity work to save Ember?

Why didn’t they protect Spike?

What was the point of them even being there from a narrative standpoint?

It just felt very awkward and forced, and created all sorts of fridge logic (though, amusingly, the lampshade they hung on them getting into the volcano had a simple explanation – Twilight can teleport).

Honestly, it would have been better if Twilight was constantly just skipping past the obstacles with her magic, keeping an eye on Spike to make sure he didn’t get hurt, simultaneously meaning that she could have trivially won the contest (and just given the scepter to spike) as well as giving her a good reason to be there. Or, heck, she could have cheated and HELPED Spike, or have started to, and then had Spike thank her but say that it wouldn’t be fair if he had them helping him out.

That would have, at least, given her more of a purpose of being there – and really, Spike, with his notions of chivalry, is totally the type who would turn down an advantage like that, though I suppose it might have created some fridge logic with helping Ember.

Though on the other hand, maybe it would have encouraged Ember to team up with him, because she saw how useful teamwork had been with Twilight helping Spike, and she was smart enough to see it was the right way through – and after all, there wasn’t a ban on dragons helping each other, right?

Loophole abuse is a wonderful thing.

But really, this felt like Daring Don’t in that regard – Twilight and Rarity were more than capable of helping (and saving themselves), but just stood around like lumps. Twilight didn’t save Spike from the fall, or Rarity from a potential fall, despite being more than capable of it, and there were no signs of any sort of ulterior motive there like trying to show Ember the power of friendship via example.

The other problem was another poorly executed bit of character development for a character.

Here, we saw Ember supposedly start out as “well, dragons are supposed to do it alone” and then become friends with Spike, but the problem is that the whole thing is handled in a very awkward and disjointed fashion. Had Ember started out making an excuse, or even showing off the intelligence she supposedly had – say, by noticing Twilight cheating and helping Spike, and realizing that there was no rule AGAINST teamwork – she would have not only gained additional characterization (as her character traits were all told to us, not shown to us), but also would have potentially gained more leverage in terms of the emotional transition. But it was okay for her to be a softy as well – despite what she claimed, her dad did obviously care enough for her to not want her to get hurt. It would have been fine for her conflict to be openly expressing her own un-draconic inner nature that matched Spike (and the ponies) more than her fellow dragons.

The real issue, though, is that the final emotional transition – Ember’s realization that Spike is her friend – happened off-screen. It would have been more powerful if Ember had been going along with Spike, Garble had gone after Spike, freeing HER up to win, and then she realized that she cared more about Spike being okay than about winning, and was even okay with HIM winning instead – it would have worked better. Instead, she swoops in from off-screen and awkwardly says that she’s actually his friend, after flying off and saying they were on their own. We saw nothing of her apart, saw nothing that drove her to change her mind, and frankly, the whole sequence there took almost no time – a problem also seen back in Princess Twilight Sparkle, when Twilight leaves the forest, then turns around in Ponyville and goes straight back into the forest pretty much immediately.

If Ember had kept making excuses for them to keep working together, it would have made her final decision of helping Spike feel more natural, and also would have avoided that weird “I left and now I’m back again two minutes later”. Moreover, if she and Spike had stuck together, she could have solved that final maze puzzle with Spike, showing her intelligence (and possibly Spike’s as well, if she got part of the solution, but was wrong in some way, and then Spike realized what was missing – a sort of collaborative thing), giving them a chance for further bonding.

As it was, many of her alleged traits were told to us, and the traits she showed were at odds with what they claimed dragons should be like (and indeed, what she herself was claiming), and it really didn’t do much with it.

I also have to express disappointment that Dragon Lord Torch didn’t reveal his SECRET PLAN for Ember to win the whole time. That final maze puzzle seemed like an intellectual thing, despite his stated animosity for such, and a lot of it seemed to reward perseverance rather than brute strength, which suggested to me that the whole thing was a setup for his own daughter to win from the start.

All of that is not to say that I hated the episode. It wasn’t bad. But it was far from great, and I felt like it made a lot of mistakes that I’ve seen the show make before, and it seems like they continue to not learn from them, and at times it undercuts characterization and character development.

Maybe the fandom will move on from shipping Spike with Rarity and ship Spike with Ember instead.

She is kind of cute.

Adorably awkward about touching, too.

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Comments ( 57 )

Maybe the fandom will move on from shipping Spike with Rarity and ship Spike with Ember instead.

She is kind of cute.

And closer to being age-appropriate. I haven't seen the episode yet, but she looks like she's meant to be in her early teens. Certainly younger than the Dragon Quest assholes.

Yeah, she's young. How young isn't clear - older than Spike, certainly - but she seems like a young teen probably.

3875917 Padme/Anakin this-is-creepy-for-a-while-but-will-get-un-creepy-later relationship is a go!

Time to forget about Rarity, nerds! The new Ship is in dry-dock and being constructed.

I think spike is early teens maturity and age wise, just smaller because he doesn't collect any treasure. We've seen how large he can get if he hoards, and that's something I'm sure every dragon that isn't living with ponies is inclined to do on some level. Most of his hoard when he was spikezilla was pony merch, so I'm guessing if left in the wild and to his own divices he would be significantly smaller, like he was after his first growth spurt.

As far as the ztanding atound and being useless, I'm willing to bet that pony interference would have invalidated Spike's victory. He did recieve help which is unusual for dragons, but at least it was a dragon that helped him. Twi probably teleported through the obstacles to meet spike on the other side, but couldn't help him directly due to risks. Almost all dragons hate ponies, so seeing one drop a "runt" off at the finish line probably wouldn't help, and might've even started a war.

I love it when main characters are shoehorned into a background character's episode. Let's face it; this was a very good episode for Spike and his growth, but there was zero reason for Twilight and Rarity to carry the idiot ball and not make the best of how they were copy pasted into this episode.


Padme/Anakin this-is-creepy-for-a-while-but-will-get-un-creepy-later relationship

Yeah, uh, about that.

I rewatched the prequel trilogy before "The Force Awakens" came out. As far as I can tell, it never actually got un-creepy. If anything, I think it might have gotten more creepy after Hayden Christensen showed up, just because it really showed off how emotionally stunted both of them were. It's like watching the worst parts of Tommy Wiseau's "The Room" mixed with some laser swords and Ewan McGregor trying desperately to save a dying franchise from its creator.

3875941 Well, yes, okay, that's true. But it was no longer creepy because of their relative ages.

It was at that point creepy because Lucas is romance poison.

I am now in total agreement with you, sir!

3875944 Insert "good, good" bug meme here.

and I felt like it made a lot of mistakes that I’ve seen the show make before, and it seems like they continue to not learn from them

New writers, that's likely it. :trixieshiftleft:

I definitely agree on those first two points. Spike's interaction with Rarity and Twilight did serve as a catalyst for Ember's development, but that process could've worked without involving the ponies, and the payoff could've been shown onscreen. Still not sure how Machiavellian Torch really is, though.

That being said, I really did enjoy this episode overall. These were sticking points for me, but not dealbreakers.

The writers of this episode wrote three episodes of Season 5, including "Rarity Investigates!" and "The Hooffields and the McColts." They clearly know what Rarity and Twilight are capable of (the latter's raw magical output, at the very least,) which only makes this episode's flaws more frustrating.

I think I should cross-link this comment here.

EDIT: It helps to actually link to the comment, and not this very page.

Author Interviewer

So we can expect a season finale where Spike kills a bunch of recently-hatched dragonlings with a lightsaber, right? :V

Maybe the fandom will move on from shipping Spike with Rarity and ship Spike with Ember instead.

As a Sparity shipper, I've gotta say it isn't the fandom that's the problem: it's the show. Sparity is the only real ship on the show (not counting married partners or Lyrabon deep in the background), and there have been several entire episodes written specifically about that ship which further it, despite all its obvious creepiness.

Hell, the current episode even started out with Sparity: Rarity was using Spike because he thought he was getting closer to her romantically.

If I were a more active artist, long ago I'd have done a comic about Palpatine getting caught with youngling porn by Youngling Protective Services.

Yeah, this is a problem I had, too. I guess one could argue that Twilight didn't want to use her magic on the dragons considering she was already trespassing on their territory and it might be seen as grounds for war (they seemed pretty volatile) but that doesn't explain why she didn't save Rarity, Ember, or Spike.

Another problem is one I first noticed in the premiere, where the writers seem to have thought that merely acknowledging the existence of a problem was sufficient grounds to not actually explain it. So when Celestia and Luna ask how a newborn alicorn is possible or when Spike asks how Twilight and Rarity could keep up, both times they are cut off by the narrative means before an answer can be delivered. So we have the acknoledgment of a plot-issue, the implication that there is a logical explanation, and then no actual on-screen explanation. It really comes across as lazy writing, even if there ARE easily extrapolated explanations.

Wanderer D

3876112 It's not an actual ship. It's a young kid gushing over his older sister's friend. 2 + 2 =/= 5 Rarity herself has never done anything remotely romantic for him.

On this episode though... I agree with the addition of Twilight and Rarity both being a bit... pointless. Why not just Twilight? Why not just Rarity? It is entirely possible that Hasbro's rules require them to have at least two of the recognizable ponies together at all times. (Pinkie + Rarity + Maud, Pinkie + Rainbow + Gilda, etc.) So how do they get past that? They become part of the background.

You forget Celestia sent Twilight and Rarity to escort Spike to the Dragon Lands and observe Dragon culture as apparently they are agreesive any one who is not a dragon to where little is known. Her and Rarity being there alone was a delicate and volatile situation the last thing they needed or wanted to do was to make things worse.

Rarity wasn't Twilight's friend when Spike began crushing on her, and the show has done a lot more than that.


He gave her a heart-shaped ruby that she wears, he sleeps with a doll of her that she no doubt made, and as recent as the current episode he's still macking on her and she's allowing it. It's shipping, and it's creepy.

Wanderer D

3876396 It's not shipping. It's projecting a ship that isn't there. Haven't you ever had older female friends or relatives that you ever gave something to and it means a lot to them, but that doesn't mean they're ready to shuck their panties off? Caring for someone is not the same as wanting to date them.

The alicorn thing was noted specifically as being inexplicable, which I took to be a dig at Hasbro marketing.

Here, though, it was intended as a joke, I think - they had gotten through a ridiculous gauntlet of traps and then WHOOSH Rarity and Twilight are there on the other side! He was lampshading it, even though there actually was a logical explanation (Twilight can teleport).

It isn't that I forgot that, it is that their behavior there made no sense. Would Twilight or Rarity just sit there and say, "Oh, no, they're going to drown!" or would they help?

We know the answer to this - they're heroes! Heck, Twilight is extremely helpful - she likes solving problems. It is kind of like, her thing. She gets this dangerous gleam in her eye just thinking about it. :rainbowderp:

Their presence didn't contribute narratively, nor did it make sense in an in-character way - Twilight not catching Spike/Rarity with her magic is just a weird thing to do and very out of character, as was her not helping with the fallen dragon (and saving someone from drowning is surely more important than some silly competition).

If you're going to include a character, you need to remember that that person has agency of their own. They forgot this, and so they just sort of stuck them in without thinking about it. They were a distraction rather than a contributory part of the episode for most of its length. Had Spike been there alone, nothing would have needed to change and the episode could have all turned out the same. That's a sign that the characters' presence is unnecessary, so why are they even there?

The problem isn't that their presence is unjustified in a worldly sense, it is that it is unjustified from a narrative and characterization standpoint.

This is especially true given that Rarity does things like snicker at Spike attempting to be the MANLY HERO and shutting him down at various times while he's being all, you know, Spike-has-a-crush-on-Rarity. She sometimes will exploit his crush a bit, but she certainly has no amorous feelings for him (and forgets he has feelings for her when it is convenient, such as during Simple Ways).

He's her friend, but she doesn't like, like like him.

I think it's just going to be shipped on the show forever with no progress, sadly. If Spike "matured" and they changed his character model a little, they might be able to legitimize the ship (as long as you forget that Spike is, at best, still a few years younger than Rarity; or if you don't care because sci-fi races a-la sleeper pedo Kes from Voyager).

I sometimes wonder if the ship would work with genders reversed. I think most people would assume Hasbro would never show a little girl crushing on a stallion, but I'm loathe to say "if genders reversed this would never happen" because those breed of "ifs" are nothing more than assumptions masquerading as fact. There are examples in cartoons of that already: Sunni Gummy crushing on Gusto for one, and there was even an episode where Sunny began magically aging and in the brief period when she was a teenager, Gusto finally reciprocated her advances (and this was Disney in the late 80's early 90's).

So it's a common trope in both directions, probably because it happens a lot in real life. It needs to develop, though. Either make Spike more mature and have them date, or have Rarity shut him down and mature the crush into a friendship that isn't so one-sided.

It isn't really shipped on the show so much as it is "Spike has a crush on Rarity, but Rarity doesn't reciprocate." I'd think of shipping as more like what they did with Marble and Big Mac.

I wouldn't be surprised if they eventually had Rarity actually shut Spike down; they don't seem too afraid of plot advancement in many respects. Rarity got her boutique, the CMC got their marks...

Not sure I agree. The depth of the "I love you" moment and the "Spikey-Wikey" show Rarity investing more emotion in the relationship than she should if she doesn't care for him. I agree she's not being portrayed as being romantically interested in him, but she definitely sends mixed signals. That's why I don't see them crushing Spike's dreams anytime soon, appropriate or not.

I'd like to see more Spike development in general, though. The last episode, for all its flaws, was a really good Spike episode. The Games is another one of my favorites (because the moral speaks to me on a personal level, in part), although I can't bear to open my eyes when he's singing.

Yeah now that you mention it Twilight and Rarity don't need to be there, it is common thing that happened several times in MLP. But think about it this way would Spike have gone to the dragons land, especially after happen in Dragon's quest possible not on his own. The others were there in support him, just he does for them. It's the same principal as in the episode Sonic Rainbow did all of them have be there? No not really but they were there.

Even still, the joke's logic collapses in on itself. Less than two minutes after the lampshade, Garble backs Twilight and Rarity onto the edge of the cliff, and the two ponies cower until Ember saves them. Twilight has been getting them around all this time with (presumably though not explicitly stated) her teleportation or maybe her flight, either of which would solve the problem of "cornered on a cliff". You can't have a gag about how the ponies are getting past dangerous traps with ease, and then a minute later have them in a dangerous situation yet stuck.

Okay, Sparity isn't my ship, but as a Professor of Shipology, let me offer my two cents here. Spike, very obviously, has been crushing on Rarity. This hit its peak in Secret of My Excess and has tapered off a bit from the eye-hearts and the swooning of S1, but clearly he's still be pining a bit for her. Things like the Simple Ways clip TD linked show that, if she reciprocated with romantic affection, he'd be all over that. Even as things are now, he's still going out of his way to be a fedora-tipping Nice Guy, as we see him helping Rarity with her gem excavations again, a call-back to A Dog and Pony Show. More on that in a second.


Rarity is canonically aware of Spike's crush on her. That part's not up for debate. But her reaction has been... basically, sort of a "aww, that's sweet". Not exactly dismissive or patronizing, but she seems to be seeing this as a prepubescent boy acting sweet on her, and not considering it as anything more. (Of course, that won't stop shippers. Nothing stops shippers.) Still, she's toed a fine line up until now. Secret of My Excess got him a kiss on the cheek, and she's fluttered her eyelashes at him a few times to get her way. It's... not exactly leading him on, but yeah kinda a little. We've seen in episodes like A Dog and Pony Show or Putting Your Hoof Down that Rarity has no qualms with using her ladylike charm to get her way. And so when she kisses Spike on the cheek for giving her the fire ruby, that kiss is the reward in-and-of-itself; it's not intended as a promise for future romantic developments. Buuut, at the same time, she's canonically aware that he's pining for her. It's a bit uncool that she's dangling this possibility in front of Spike, fanning the flames. If she's not interested, she ought to let him down, letting him know that he's a sweet dragon and all, but that she simply doesn't feel the way he does.

Yet, while she doesn't (canonically) reciprocate his feelings, and while she just sees it as a crush, she's never cruel about it. The absolute "worst" thing she's done to Spike was the above clip from Simple Ways, and that was less about Rarity being oblivious to his feelings and moreso about her being caught up in her own histrionics. When she sees him dragging around a Rarity doll, she doesn't squick out or shame him or talk shit behind his back. It's just Spikey-Wikey being cute.


Which was why this episode's start was so unusual. She downgrades him from "bodyguard" to emasculating "basket holder" in the first 30 seconds (notice Spike's little glare as she turns around, arms on his hips). Two minutes in, when the episode's premise is being set up, Rarity refers to dragons as "ghastly creatures.... oh uh, not you, of course, Spikey-Wikey." (This coming from the same mare who wore a specially designed outfit to watch the dragon migrations?) Rarity doesn't usually stomp on Spike like this, yet we see two blatant negs in the first few minutes. What's going on here? It's almost like the writers are—



This isn't a surprise to me, mind you. To me, this is just a continuation of a long trend of replacement goldfishes that's been running since S5 at least.

Hey, you guys like Fluttermac, right? Well here's a new character who's a shy moe woobie. We'll even have Pinkie be a shipper-on-deck.

Oh, you're a Rarijack fan? How about a childhood-friend type for Applejack, who's artistically inclined and famous, yet still relates to AJ on a personal level? Just in case the bronies miss it, we'll give her a canonical nickname that's super-close to one of Rarity's fan nicknames.

Oh come on I know their personalities are different but that's freakin' R63 Scootaloo they weren't even trying to hide it.

So, as an aforementioned Professor of Shipology, when I look at this, I see an upper-class (being dragon nobility and all) female who is older than Spike (but is the same race, and also dragons are long-lived so a ~10 year age gap will quickly become inconsequential) who Spike spends this episode trying to get close to and her initial reaction is not resoundingly interested, but by the end of the episode, her tsundere nougat center shows that she does hold a sweet spot for Spike—platonic for now, but more than enough to rev the shipper's engines. Oh, and if bronies have trouble drawing the analogies (I admit it's less 1-to-1 than the previous examples), let's literally put Rarity's cutie mark all over her.

Whatever their reasons may be, the show writers don't seem to want to encourage a romance plot between two main characters Yes, D, I just called Spike a main character, fite me 1 v 1 and so we've been going through a conga line of "here's a secondary character / love interest. Shippers, use this pairing instead." Obviously, that won't actually stop shippers, because much like a virus outbreak, we are unstoppable and all-consuming. But it's a bizarre little trend that I can't help but notice, and I'm curious what the intention/goal of this is. No, obviously I'm not trying to imply that Ember or the other referenced characters exist solely to be shipped. But if you're going to refute this has anything to do with shipping, then you first must explain the intention of adding Marblemac canonically. And before you say, "but the show staff don't care about shippers"... seriously, you should follow some of these people's Twitter accounts. They know about shippers, some of them are shippers themselves, and 90% of the show's staff are gigantic trolls. See also: Slice of Life.

Clearly you need to make a blog post about this vile conspiracy.

Though I'm pretty sure Countess Coloratura is not a Rarity expy, given she's a Lady Gaga expy. I don't think they were going all Lesbos on that one.

The other two are pretty blatant, though in all fairness, Big Mac is subject to a fair bit of shipping (and CheeriMac was previously his other go-to thing - really, FlutterMac has been pretty dead for ages).

3876093 *wyrmling
The youngest age category of Dragons after they hatch is the Wyrmling stage.

PS: OP apparently doesn't know the tell-tale signs of a Tsundere. I'm pretty sure that Ember actually thought of Spike as at least a valued ally for most of the episode, maybe even as soon as when he saved her from drowning, she just didn't want to admit it. (Potentially because admitting to seeing him as an ally/friend/potential mate could be seen as a sign of weakness.)

The problem wasn't that it wasn't obvious they were going for the tsundere, it was that it felt very stilted. Tsundere characters behave chaotically, but not randomly, and it felt sort of like it was going through the motions a bit rather than authentic-feeling mood swings. It didn't really feel like a person behaving in that way, rather someone being pulled along on the invisible strings of a script. It didn't feel authentic.


though I'm pretty sure Countess Coloratura is not a Rarity expy, given she's a Lady Gaga expy.

Good point. I can't imagine Rarity dressing up in some sort of outlandish, impractical, statement-making outfit for the sole purpose of drawing attention to herself oh wait.

At least in their universe, Rarity has the excuse that the butterfly wings were functional and being worn with their intended purpose in mind.

This is spot on and ought to be a blog post of its own.

Also, Prince Rutherford is clearly the royal goldfish for Twilestia shippers. :trollestia:

3877356 seconding
3878520 should be its own blog post. Hell, EQD might post it as an analysis blog.

I'm pretty sure shipping is to the show as reading a phonebook is to numerology; yes the source material is the same, but the each person's interpretation is going to get deep and different really fast. Add to that the fact that there are a lot of cooks in the MLP kitchen. Perhaps there's only one chef, but different writers and animators throw in small animations and throw-away lines that drive us all crazy. If I recall correctly, it wasn't actually scripted for Cheerilee to faint/swoon during the Ponytones performance, but obviously someone in the production chain threw it in and nobody else took it out.

To be fair, she was fake-fainting, so that could have just been the two of them sharing a joke.

It definitely threw fuel on the shipping fire, though.

True, it was more of a swoon, I suppose (and thanks to the magic of technology, my original post now says that)
And yes, shipping fuel. So much shipping fuel.

Wanderer D

3880426 Funny, but still not canon.

Wait, this one has to be canon. Derpy canon is always canon.

Wanderer D

3881264 You forgot the mic-drop

3876547 Actually, now that I think of it, has any unicorn ever caught anything with their magic? Lifting countless objects, sure, in Twilight's case huge objects, but actually catching an object moving at even a reasonable speed? If not, maybe it's just shock. Also fighting Garble might not work that well. It's been suggested magic is iffy at best with dragons. That would acutally be more important to lampshade than the getting ahead of them thing. Also remember that Twi is taking notes the whole time so until there is the clear mortal danger to Spike near the end when she can clearly see it it's not a big deal. She was clearly fairly busy swimming when they were crossing the water, so that doesn't count, and they were at the exit of the maze so they didn't see all of that either. Rarity could have been making suggestions for Twi to do things the whole time, but by the time she looked up that crisis was over so she assumed it wasn't that bad.

Yes. Rarity did it with pillows back in season 1 during Look Before You Sleep. It has been done periodically.

Plus recently they've loved to show unicorns/alicorns passing stuff back and forth between them.

Missed opportunity to redeem Spike's dragon code of honor! They could have explicitly shown why Spike's code is better than traditional dragon culture!

3884556 Yea, the pillows thing, forgot that entirely, but maybe there are some limits to it. That a certain degree of course is too much for anyone to get a grip. Reasonable speed, it's fine, fast but light enough, also fine, but once you get say near your own weight at a good clip, like a falling pony, suddenly things don't work. This has obviously never been brought up, but unless there is something I'm forgetting it might make some sense.

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